As far as species go, dogs as we know them today are pretty new, They emerged from the fossil record only about 15-30,000 years ago. It’s thought that wolves that hung around human campsites long enough to scavenge food eventually became their own species, one that has a symbiotic relationship with man. Man and dog still have a symbiotic relationship today. We take them for walks, feed them, pick up their poo, and in return they bring back tennis balls we accidentally throw. Since the beginning it’s always been about the food. We kept them around because they were good guard animals; they stayed around because we tossed them good scraps. As dogs evolved in their ability to live peacefully with us, their digestive enzymes evolved as well.
Dogs have more amylase than their wolf cousins; possibly as an adaptation to let them better eat our starchy diets. Science! So when we ask, what is dog food the answer is, it’s pretty much the same as people food maybe better, depending on the restaurant. So how did we get from scraps around the fire to bags lining the store shelves today? About 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher and poet Marcus Terentius Varro wrote the first book on farming. He advised giving farm dogs bones from dead sheep and barley bread soaked in milk. He was weird. But he loved dogs. In the middle ages, European royalty would feed their dogs a stew made from grains and vegetables with some meat and meat by-products.
Dogs in the houses of commoners, however, got by on very little. They ate whatever their owners could scrape together: potatoes, cabbage, bare bones, bread crusts, Ramen noodles, cold pizza Kind of like college. In the 1800s, farm dogs, which needed to eat to do their jobs were commonly fed grain and lard basically fast food. Some people in cities actually made a living searching the streets for dead horses, cutting them up, and selling the meat to wealthy dog owners for food. Before there was a horse named Seabiscuit there was a horse named DogBiscuit Dogs of the nobility feasted on roast duck, candy, and even liquor. As a side note, please don’t feed your pet candy or liquor even if it’s their birthday or their bachelorette party. The industrial revolution marked a turning point in history, with a growing middle class that had the time and money to have dogs as pets. Dogs were no longer just a luxury for the rich.
First Commercial Dog Food
The first commercial dog food was sold in London in 1860 by an electrician from Ohio named James Spratt. What was an electrician from Ohio doing in London in 1860 you ask? He was selling lightning rods. That’s shocking. Spratt observed dogs being fed biscuits that were left over from sailing ships and decided to make his own biscuits for dogs. “Spratt’s Dog Cakes” were such a big hit with the English gentry that in 1870 he brought them to New York. So dog food was inspired by Seabuiscuits? Dog cakes but I see what you did there. The F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company introduced the first line of puppy food and various kibble sizes in 1908; and by 1931 Nabisco purchased the line and renamed it “Milkbone.” Canned dog food was introduced in 1922 with Ken-L-Ration, a canned horsemeat. Seabiscuit!
Canned dog food quickly gained popularity and represented 90% of the dog food market until WWII, when government rationing became a concern. That’s when companies started experimenting with dry dog food. The number of companies in the dog food industry grew like crazy in the 40’s and 50’s. Paul Iams started the Iams Company in 1946, and Dr. Mark Morris started the company that would eventually become Hill’s Pet Nutrition in 1948. In the 1950’s Purina adapted a commercial machine that was used to make Chex cereal and produced the first dog kibble, Purina Dog Chow. The food was pushed through a tube, cooked under high pressure, and then puffed with air, which is how Chex managed to stay so crunchy even in milk. From there, the next Step was a huge leap into TV advertising, and that’s how the industry that we know today was born.